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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does not the Secretary of State understand that outside the House there is deep cynicism about the timing of this decision? Is he surprised about that, bearing in mind the disgraceful leaked e-mail from his special adviser? Is he aware that he has brought public and political life into disrepute by his lack of action in failing to sack Jo Moore?
The timing of this decision was dictated by the need to take decisions as soon as all the relevant information was available. As some Opposition Members know, stock market-sensitive information is often communicated on a Friday after the stock market has closed, especially in a case such as this, when administration may follow as a result. That is what we did in this situation, to ensure that any move to railway administration might be made in an orderly way.
I repeat the point that I made in my statement: the thousands of railway workers who turned up for work on Monday after the railway administration was announced have done a great service to the network. They have worked normally; what has happened has not distracted them. Most of them believe that an opportunity now exists to build a railway network of which they can be proud as workers and of which we can be proud as a country, as is simply not the case at the moment.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that if there is a criticism of him it is that he did not make his decision sooner? Public disquiet has long existed at the fact that vast sums of public money were being pumped into a system to allow the bosses of the industry to pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses, to subsidise shares without following market principles and, of course, to create a shambles of a railway system. Would my right hon. Friend accept that, now he has done this worthwhile deed, the travelling public is waiting for him to tackle the problem of the operating companies and the shambles that some of them are in? If he has that on his agenda, could he please start with Virgin?
Mr. Byers: My right hon. Friend makes some interesting points, as always. When the scale of the crisis was revealed on 25 July, we moved quickly to consider all the options with Railtrack and to make contingency plans for railway administration, if that proved to be necessary, as it did. Finally, on 5 October, we took the decision when all the relevant factors had been considered and all the relevant issues taken into account.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point about the role of the operating companies. We should revisit the way in which franchises are awarded to ensure that the travelling public benefit. I said in my statement that we should use this decision on Railtrack as an opportunity to restructure the whole railway industry. I intend to do that, and I would like to think that we could do that in
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I think that everyone in the House would agree that the demise of Railtrack was as predictable as it was overdue. Does the Secretary of State agree that its demise presents distinct opportunities for Scotland, in particular to pursue a new type of not-for-profit investment policy for which we in the Scottish National party have arguedsuccessfully, it seems, given the Government's conversion to that policyover the past few years?
In Scotland we have a single Railtrack zone. ScotRail provides some 95 per cent. of all train services. Is it not now time for Scotland to break with the failures of the national Railtrack past and to improve public accountability by making the Scottish Executive and Parliament directly responsible for rail services in Scotland?
John Cryer (Hornchurch): Does my right hon. Friend agree that privatisation was a complex method of achieving the relatively simple goal of shifting massive amounts of money from taxpayers into the pockets of shareholders? I congratulate him on saying "enough is enough" to the cowboys who have been running Railtrack for the past few years, but does he agree that one of the most important things that the successor to Railtrack could do would be to begin to employ a direct labour force? That would at least start to remove some of the fragmentation, confusion and lack of accountability that have turned Britain's railways into a lethal network.
Mr. Byers: The issue of employment will be a matter for the company once it is established. Joint work between the company and the Government could be conducted in the field of training. Training in the railway industry has been neglected for many years, especially during the past few years of privatisation. There is a skills shortage in the railway industry, and a productive conversation can be held about the need to ensure that we have a properly skilled work force on the railway network.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): As the Secretary of State has now accepted that cash, property and some other assets belong to group shareholders and not the receivership company, can he not see that he will have to persuade the Chancellor to put a lot more cash into the Railtrack company in administration, in order to rebuild its balance sheet now that the group and individual shareholders are shorn of those assets, and to make the company more viable for borrowing and private finance? Given the huge damage that he has done to the private finance initiative and the public accounts, will it not be impossible for his going concern certificate to be renewed by the Chancellor?
Mr. Byers: The right hon. Gentleman has called for my resignation onI thinkthree occasions. Two of the calls were made while we were trying to save jobs at Longbridge in Birmingham. He was prepared to see the
Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): My right hon. Friend referred to the channel tunnel rail link. As the first stage of that massive infrastructure project nears completion, does he agree that it is vital to the regeneration of north Kent and its people, who have endured disruption, some blight and upheavalit has been a sacrifice for the greater good of the United Kingdomthat the second stage is built? Will he give a guarantee that it will be built along the same route, with environmental safeguards, to ensure the economic prosperity that we so need throughout Kent and London?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes a powerful case on behalf of his constituents and the people of north Kent. I reassure him that major projects that were under way, whether on section 1 of the channel tunnel rail link or on the west coast main line, will continue. We are talking to the administrators about the steps that can be taken to drive forward the projects more positively and without the cost overruns that we saw under Railtrack. This is the opportunity to ensure, through special purpose vehicles, that we deliver on time and on budget. I give my hon. Friend an assurance that those projects will not be affected by this decision and will be able to continue.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that since privatisation passenger numbers have been rising by approximately 17 per cent. a year, to the point at which the network is suffering considerable capacity problems. Now that we are one year into his 10-year plan for the railways, will he confirm that he has secure funding to complete that plan? Will he also give some examples of enhancements to the railway network that we can expect to be open for business during this Parliament?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman should probably be aware that passenger numbers are up not because of privatisation but because of the strength of the economy and the fact that more people are in work. [Interruption.] That is why passenger numbers are on the increase. People will see improvements in the railway network as a result of the decision that we have taken. We expect that, during this Parliament, for example, section 1 of the channel tunnel rail link will be completed. That will bring real benefits to the travelling public.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the action that he has taken, about which my constituents in Carlisle are delighted. He may be aware that in April I promoted a private Member's Bill that anticipated today's situation. I ask him for an assurance regarding the west coast main line. Next year, we shall have tilting trains, which are capable of 140 mph. Will the west coast main line be upgraded to meet that standard?